The scariest night of the year requires some preparation. Most people turn to horror movies to provide Halloween spirit, but to do so is to ignore the fact that most horror movies began as terrifying novels and short stories. This year, rather than suffering through the self-inflicted amputations and terrible acting of Saw 12, pick up one of these books. They're all guaranteed to make you jump at shadows and sleep with the lights on.
Dracula, by Bram Stoker
The seminal horror novel, Dracula successfully runs through a checklist of elements designed to creep you out. Ancient castle in a foreign country? Check. Charming aristocrats who turn out to be blood-sucking monsters? Yup. People who sleep in coffins and can’t die? Absolutely. Beyond the caricature of slicked-back hair and a massive widow’s peak, the novel has endured because it continues to terrify readers.
The Day of the Triffids, by John Wyndham
If the threat of slow moving, murderous plants doesn't strike fear in your heart... you're probably of sound mental health. In John Wyndham's cult classic, however, a mysterious meteor shower renders most of the human population blind, and causes seemingly-harmless perennials to attack. The few people who can still see are charged with fending off the ferocious flowers and reconstructing human society. There's no doubt that houseplants create a homey atmosphere, but The Day of the Triffids may cause you to think twice before casually purchasing that Japanese Peace Lily.
Zombie, by Joyce Carol Oates
Winner of the 1996 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel, Zombie is told through the eyes of a Jeffrey Dahmer-esque serial killer. Diary entries detail the murderer’s hunt for handsome young men who, when found, are lobotomized with an ice pick. After their frontal lobes are removed, they act like easily-controlled zombies. It is also true that most young men can be easily controlled if they are promised food, or distracted with any televised sporting event, but the ice pick is definitely a more dramatic choice, so I guess I see why Oates went that direction.
I am Legend, by Richard Matheson.
Forget the Will Smith movie and go straight to the source. Matheson's 1954 novel tells the story of Robert Neville, the only man on earth immune to a plague that has turned everyone else into vampires. Having rapidly become an outsider in a society of monsters, he struggles to survive as legions of blood-thirsty creatures attempt to eliminate him.
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
As a Halloween icon, the appearance of Victor Frankenstein’s monster on the list of scary books is all but mandatory. However, first time readers may be surprised by the difference between the pop-culture perception of the pieced-together behemoth, and the lonely, alienated pariah that is Shelley’s original creation. Fans of Mel Brooks may be further surprised to learn that the infamous monster does not, in fact, don a tuxedo and groan along to "Puttin' on the Ritz."
It, by Stephen King
90% of Stephen King’s novels make readers want to curl up in the fetal position and cry for their mothers. While almost any other King novel, like Pet Semetary, The Shining , or ‘Salem’s Lot, could have been included on this list, I chose It for one reason: Pennywise, the murderous clown. He’s stalking you at the library, spattering blood all over your bathroom, and lurking in the sewer beneath your street. He’s everywhere, he’s often invisible, and he has a squeaky red nose. This novel proves once and for all that there’s nothing funny about clowns.
House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
Danielewski's 2000 novel requires a bit more patience than any other book on the list. Its experimental form weaves in and out of various types of narration, and is accompanied by a second tale told through extensive footnotes. If you can plod through this post-modern mess, you'll probably enjoy the story of Will Navidson, a photojournalist who moves into a house with his girlfriend only to find that the interior dimensions are larger than the exterior dimensions. Worse, the rooms inexplicably change; a closet appears that wasn't there before, and the hallways shift. The novel is flawed, and Danielewski's attempts at novelty often weigh down the story instead of making it more unique, but it is unlike any other horror novel out there. If you think of it like the Blair Witch Project of books, and read it with a willingness to abandon it when it gets bogged down, House of Leaves can provide a totally unique literary thrill.